Who can assist

There are plenty of effective treatments for anxiety and depression, and the sooner you seek support, the sooner you can recover.

A range of individuals and organisations provide support for people experiencing depression and/or anxiety conditions. While some people may just need to get help from one particular type of health professional, other people may benefit from seeing various people for different aspects of their treatment. 

What works?

Everyone's different. Treatment needs to be tailored to your condition, circumstances, needs and preferences. Most people with anxiety or depression benefit from one or a combination of the following:

  • lifestyle changes and social support 
  • psychological or 'talking' therapies
  • medical therapies

Health professionals - what's the difference?

Different health professionals (such as GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists) offer different types of services and treatments for depression and anxiety. Below is a guide to the range of practitioners available and what kind of treatment they provide.

General Practitioners (GPs)

GPs are the best starting point for someone seeking professional help. A good GP can:
  • make a diagnosis
  • check for any physical health problem or medication that may be contributing to the depression or anxiety, or may affect your treatment
  • provide information and discuss available treatments, taking your preferences into account
  • work with you to draw up a Mental Health Treatment Plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment
  • provide support, brief counselling or, in some cases, more specialised talking therapy
  • prescribe medication
  • refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • provide information and support to family members, if you agree
  • schedule regular appointments to check how you are going.

Before consulting a GP about depression or anxiety, it's important to ask the receptionist to book a longer or double appointment, so there's plenty of time to discuss the situation without feeling rushed. If you aren't able to make a longer appointment, it's a good idea to raise the issue of depression or anxiety early in the consultation so there is plenty of time to discuss it.  

Ideally, you should consult your regular GP or another GP in the same clinic, as medical information is shared within a practice. While some GPs may be more confident at dealing with depression and anxiety than others, the majority of GPs will be able to assist or at least refer you to someone who can, so they are the best place to start.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are doctors who have undergone further training to specialise in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. They can make medical and psychiatric assessments, conduct medical tests, provide therapy, and also prescribe medication. Psychiatrists often use psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and/or medication. If the depression or anxiety is severe and hospital admission is required, a psychiatrist will be in charge of the person's treatment.

You'll need a referral from a GP to see a psychiatrist and to claim rebates through Medicare.

A GP may suggest you see a psychiatrist if:

  • your experience of depression or anxiety is more severe
  • your experience of depression or anxiety is associated with a high risk of self-harm or suicide
  • your experience of depression or anxiety lasts for a long time, or continues to come back
  • your condition has failed to respond to treatment
  • the GP would like specialist advice about the most appropriate treatment
  • the GP thinks that he or she doesn't have the appropriate skills required to treat you effectively.

Psychologists

Psychologists are health professionals who can work in a range of areas such as clinical, neuropsychology, health, community, forensic, organisational, and sports and exercise psychology. Clinical psychologists specialise specifically in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems, but many other psychologists – for example counselling and educational and developmental psychologists – can also assist someone with depression or anxiety. Psychologists can provide psychological therapies (talking therapies) such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). Clinical psychologists and other psychologists are not doctors and cannot prescribe medication in Australia.

You don't need a referral from a GP or psychiatrist to see a psychologist, however, you'll need a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP to claim rebates through Medicare or to utilise the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with psychologists. If you have private health insurance and extras cover, you may be able to claim part of a psychologist's fee. Contact your health fund to check. 

Mental health nurses

Mental health nurses are nurses who have undertaken further training to care for people with mental health conditions. While most mental health nurses work in specialist mental health services, some work with private psychiatrists and GPs. Mental health nurses can provide you with information about mental health conditions and support your treatment and recovery, including reviewing the state of your mental health and monitoring your medication or other treatment recommended by your GP or psychiatrist. Some mental health nurses have training in providing psychological therapies. For a referral to a mental health nurse who works in a general practice or with a psychiatrist, ask your GP or psychiatrist.

Accredited Mental Health Social Workers

Accredited Mental Health Social workers specialise in working with and treating mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Many Accredited Mental Health Social Workers are registered with Medicare to provide focused psychological strategies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), relaxation training, psycho-education and interpersonal skills training. Accredited Mental Health Social workers draw on a range of theories and therapeutic approaches to work holistically with people to support their recovery and help them to effectively manage or change the situations that may contribute to mental health conditions. 

You don't need a referral from a GP to see an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, however a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP is needed to claim rebates from Medicare or to utilise the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with these Accredited Mental Health Social Workers.

Occupational therapists in mental health

Occupational therapists in mental health help people who have difficulty functioning because of a mental health condition (such as anxiety or depression) to participate in normal, everyday activities. Some occupational therapists are registered with Medicare to provide focused psychological strategies for people with depression or anxiety. You don't need a referral from a GP to see an occupational therapist in mental health, however a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP is needed to claim rebates from Medicare or to utilise the ATAPS program. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with occupational therapists in mental health.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers understand the health issues of Indigenous people and what is needed to provide culturally safe and accessible services. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers are health workers who work specifically in the mental health area and have specific mental health qualifications. Support provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers might include: screening, assessment, referrals, case management, transport to and attendance at specialist appointments, education, improving access to mainstream services, advocacy, counselling, support for family and acute distress response, and other forms of assistance.

Counsellors

'Counsellor' is a generic term used to describe various professionals who offer some type of talking therapy. A counsellor may be a psychologist, nurse, social worker, occupational therapist, or they may have a specific counselling qualification such as a Bachelor or Master of Counselling degree. Counsellors can work in a variety of settings, including private practices, community health centres, schools and universities and youth services.

A counsellor can talk through different problems you may be experiencing and look for possible solutions. However, it is important to note that not all counsellors have specific training in treating mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

While there are many qualified counsellors who work across different settings, unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a 'counsellor', even if they don't have training or experience. For this reason, it's important to ask for information about the counsellor's qualifications and whether they are registered with a state board or a professional society. It is also important to note that only psychologists, social workers or occupational therapists are eligible to be registered with Medicare to provide services that attract a Medicare rebate.

Complementary health practitioners

Some people may want to seek alternative and complementary treatment approaches for depression and anxiety. When seeking a complementary treatment, it's best to check whether the practitioner is registered by a state Registration Board or a professional society. It is also important to make sure the practitioner uses treatments which are supported by evidence that shows they are effective. The beyondblue booklets A guide to what works for depression and A guide to what works for anxiety look at which treatment approaches have been tried and tested. Many of these services are not covered by Medicare, although some may be covered by private health insurance. If you don't have private health insurance, you may have to pay for these treatments.


Hospitals

If you are experiencing severe depression or anxiety or are at risk of harming yourself or others, you might need to spend time in hospital for intensive treatment and monitoring. It might also be necessary to be treated in hospital if you have medical problems which may complicate your treatment.

Both public and private psychiatric hospitals can provide treatment for people experiencing severe depression or anxiety. Admission to a public hospital may occur through a community mental health team or a hospital emergency department. To be admitted to a private hospital, you require a referral from a doctor – usually your GP – to a psychiatrist working at the psychiatric hospital who agrees to undertake your care. Private hospital treatment can be costly and recommended only if you have an appropriate level of private health cover. Contact your health fund to check.

Crisis Assessment or Acute Treatment teams

Crisis Assessment or Acute Treatment teams (sometimes called CAT teams) provide emergency psychiatric care in the community to people experiencing a mental health crisis. If you are experiencing a crisis, you can be assessed and treated in the community and therefore, avoid an admission to hospital. However, when people are a potential danger either to themselves or others, they will be admitted to hospital. You can contact your nearest Crisis Assessment or Acute Treatment team by phoning the local hospital or community health centre.

There are also specialist community services available locally. To find out what services are available in your area, contact your local council.

Find a professional

Now that you've got a better sense of the kinds of services and treatments each professional can provide, the next step is to find someone in your local area.

Online e-therapies 

​Some people experiencing mild to moderate anxiety or depression may prefer to use online forms of therapy. A range of different programs are available, most of which are backed up by phone, email, text or web chat support from a mental health specialist. Online therapies can be particularly helpful for people living in rural and remote communities, who may find it difficult to access the health professionals listed above. Remember, we're all different and online therapies may not be suitable for everyone.

If you'd like to explore what's on offer and what might work for you, the Australian Government's mindhealthconnect website has a library of online programs.

What will it cost?

The cost of getting treatment for depression, anxiety or a related disorder from a health professional varies. However, in the same way that you can get a Medicare rebate when you visit a doctor, you can also get part or all of the consultation fee subsidised when you see certain mental health professionals for treatment of depression or anxiety.